All of My Papers (all of them) Fit in Here

Yep. All of my tax documents, warranties, and other not-throw-away-able papers fit in that blue box and blue folder. The blue folder is for my legal-size papers (mostly house-purchasing stuff). Everything else is in the blue box with plenty of room to spare. The black accordion folder is for work items that could easily fit in the blue box, but I need it to be more portable than the rest of papers so a separate folder is necessary. And that’s it. All of the papers in my whole house.

I spent the weekend sorting and recycling old documents. Here’s what my study looked like at the beginning of the weekend:

papersbefore

My important papers were mixed in with office supplies, tons of crafts, and random stuff that just didn’t have a home.

As I do with every organizing project, I first re-read the chapter in Marie Kondo’s book about going through your papers. She’s pretty ruthless about papers, basically saying that you should get rid of everything except the very few items that you really need (house deed, tax documents, warranties, etc.).

sortingpapers

So I jumped right in. I got rid of all of my product manuals (I wrote down the model numbers in Google Docs for items like my stove and fridge), old vet receipts, medical claims that were super old, credit card statements, 7+ year old tax documents, and other boring, unnecessary paperwork. That was the easy part.

Then came the old letters from friends and family, artwork from college, and my fashion scrapbooks. I’ve kept so many letters from the past because I love letters – they’re so old fashion, and quaint, and proper. Plus, isn’t that what you do with letters? Keep them? Like a Jane Austen heroine. I’m sure Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot kept all of their letters!

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that as much as I love the idea of the letters, I’ve never actually re-read them. I was just moving them around with me from home to home for the past fifteen years. So, what did I decide to do with them? To the shredder! Same with my fashion scrapbooks that I spent hours putting together from magazines in high school. I thought that I would enjoy looking at them after all of these years, but found them pretty boring.

I also got rid of most of my craft items (clay, yarn, tons of different papers, colored pencils, etc.) because I’ve probably spent only about 5% of my adult life really crafting. If that.

Post organizing, all of my remaining crafts, office supplies, and random stuff (travel neck pillow, yoga block, dance shoes) fit into the cabinet. And I was able to clear out so much stuff in the study closest that it now fits all of our suitcases with room to spare!

papersafter

I’m honestly kind of surprised it took me the whole weekend to sort through it all. Grant it, I did take lots of breaks – took the dogs for a walk, worked out, saw a movie, went out to dinner, did laundry, etc. The papers were easy, but it was the letters, crafts, and other nostalgic bits that completely slowed me down. I should have anticipated that, but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I persevered! And now I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Even though I could close the cabinet doors and shut the closet door, I still hated going into my study before this weekend because I knew all of that stuff was haphazardly piled in there.

Papers_beforeandafterv2

Now I feel a sense of calm wash over me when I enter the room. I know exactly where everything is and won’t get annoyed by toppling paper piles.

Before I end this very wordy post, I just want to list a few things that helped me get through the process:

  • There’s a nearby thrift store that I love and always bring my stuff to (it’s Second Life for you local readers). The best part is that they’re open on Sundays. So after I finish a big organization weekend project like this one, I can pack everything up in my car and drop it off. It makes the whole project really feel completely done and then I don’t have to second-guess my give away choices – out of sight, out of mind.
  • My paperwork collection wasn’t too ridiculous when I started the weekend, because twice a year, I go through all of my documents, check the required retention length for each type, and get rid of the ones that are old. I do it twice a year because there’s a local paper shredding event twice a year in Decatur where you can bring bags and bags of your old documents and put them in a giant shredder that can shred everything in seconds. No need to clutter my home with a personal shredder that’ll just burn-out on me.
  • For some of the time that I was sorting through my papers, I listened to The Minimalist podcast. Even though they weren’t necessarily discussing paper clutter, listening to them helped keep me motivated through the whole process.
  • I didn’t worry about having the perfect filing storage system for my remaining papers. The hanging folder box and accordion folder were items I already owned. Eventually, I might get a nicer looking setup or get some better organizing containers for my office supplies, but I don’t really need to.
  • Before starting, I made sure to get all the papers in my house gathered together including the mail on the table near my front door, the fridge (lots of outdated stuff magnetized on there), and the dining room table, which always collects crap.

And there you have it. This post was a long one! If you’ve made it this far, good for you! Now, go celebrate by going through your own paper piles and let me know how you feel afterward.

Tip #1 for living with less

Know that you will get itchy fingers to shop and that’s okay. On those days, avoid Target and other Target-like temptations (see bowls from Anthropologie above — I hear your siren call and I resist. Resist!) at all cost. Cath and I are going to start a series called “Instead of shopping” to give you ideas of what to do when your phalanges get the urge to creep toward your wallet.

Coming to Terms With My Winter Coat

This title might be a little dramatic, but hear me out. Even though I’m on a journey to reduce my worldly possessions, I still care about being somewhat stylish. If I had all the money in the world, I would create my ideal, minimalist wardrobe from the ground up. But I don’t have gobs of money and it’s probably for the best. For one thing, it would be wasteful to give away all of my clothes and go on a shopping spree. Also, I think having a budget and working with what you have builds character – at least that’s what I tell myself.

My winter coat is one of those character-building instances. Before my KonMari purge of my closet, I had at least five winter coats. Most of them were easy to get rid of because they either didn’t fit or they were dated. I was left with two coats: an Eddie Bauer puffer and a wool J. Crew coat. I ended up giving away the J. Crew coat even though it was well-made because the style was a little cute for me – it had toggle buttons.

That left me with the Eddie Bauer coat, which is a fine, practical winter coat, but not the best when it comes nicer outtings – weddings, professional networking events, etc. It just doesn’t look right to mix the informality of a puffer coat with a dress and heels. At least that’s what I thought and had my eye on buying this coat. My only problem was that I didn’t have $250 to spend on a coat. So I’ve had to make do with my puffer coat.

I know in the great scheme of things, it’s not a big deal (first world problems of only having one winter coat and what not), but I just don’t feel super pulled-together when I put on my puffer coat. For example, this outfit would be so much more chic if I had a wool trench on instead.

Nevertheless, I’ve slowly come to terms with only having this one coat this season. For one thing, it’s not overly puffy and frumpy – before cleaning out my closet, I rarely wore it because I thought it made me look like the Michelin man. I’ve also realized that my life is not as glamorous as I thought because I rarely have a fancy event to go to where a nicer coat is required. And lastly, I’ve been inspired by James Spader and his parka.

coatback

Eddie Bauer coat (similar) | Baggu tote | YARNZ scarf | Old Navy jeggings | Jeffrey Campbell boots (similar)

How many rings does one girl need?

For the last few posts, I’ve been blabbing on and on about how good I am at getting rid of things and learning to live with less. But there are still a few categories of stuff that I have that I just can’t seem to whittle down. Jewelry is one of them.

Jewelery3

I don’t wear a lot of jewelry anymore (though I used to — accessoriessss!), but I can’t give away things given to me. I know the memory of that person is more important than the thing that I have, but that line of thinking doesn’t work for me with jewelry for some reason.

When I sorted through my closet, I did go through my jewelry and got rid of some pieces that I was loath to part with but never wear. I felt very proud of myself — carefully putting the pieces in ziplock baggies so that the Good Will staff didn’t just have a tangled mess to deal with:

Jewelery-goodwill

But I still have way more left over than I will ever wear: my alma mater ring, a pearl necklace given to me by my cousin when I was 9 or 10, a mood ring given to me by my favorite design client, a butterfly brooch that makes me think of friends in Scotland.

Jewelery2

For now I’ll let my collection be and maybe tackle it in the future.I know Cath mentioned how hard it was for her to get rid of books.What do you guys find the hardest to part with and how do you grapple with letting it go?

Does it spark joy?

One of the trickiest parts of trying to live with less, is holding on to stuff for the wrong reason. In the KonMari Method, Marie Kondo suggests holding each item you own before you decide to keep it or toss it. She says if it “sparks joy” you should keep it.

I totally agree with Marie on holding each item and not just standing back and looking at your stuff, but I think the “spark joy” tenet is a bit tricky to follow.

Very rarely do things like electric toothbrushes or spatulas “spark joy” but I do absolutely need both of those things on a regular basis. Another example of things that may or may not spark joy? Shoes!

Here are some of my shoes as an example. See those pretty Rachel Comey silver oxfords up at the top of this post? Those 100%, definitely spark joy all over the place when I wear them or just look adoringly at them in the closet.

But what about these (see below) less inspiring, 4-year-old tennis shoes? These definitely don’t spark joy. Usually when they are on my feet that means I’m sweating up a storm and extremely tired and cranky. So they don’t remind me of good times or give me a feeling of unstoppable effervescence when I clutch them to my bosom. In fact, I feel more “ugh/blegh” when holding them.

shoes--tennis

According to Marie, that means I should definitely keep the silver shoes and donate the tennis shoes. But I can’t very well wear the sparking-joy-shoes while trying to imitate Kayla Itsines (aka, pretending I can do burpees and comandos like a boss lady), can I?

So instead of holding each item and thinking “does it spark joy,” I suggest holding each item and giving it a little more of a think. For example, my poor maligned tennis shoes; though they don’t spark joy because of their utilitarian nature, I am so grateful to have shoes in my closet in which it makes it easier for me to (pretend to) do burpees and squats. If something does not spark joy, does it nudge your gratitude?

I mentioned this in my closet clean-out post, but another example of sorting practical, non-sparking items is my simple white cami. This cami does not spark joy as it is incredibly unflattering when worn alone, but the lacy top it allows me to wear sends off fireworks of joy, and for that I am very grateful. Thank you, cami.

A final example if you are still finding this whole getting-rid-of-stuff tricky, take these slim looking Gazelles (below). I bought them because I had visions of me looking very fashion-editor-off-duty in cropped pants and long wool coat. I bought them for a ridiculous sum and they hurt my feet worse than any pair of heels I’ve had to break in. But I persevered because Pinterest had me believing I too could look like this.

For many reasons, I did not look like that when I had the unyielding Gazelles on my feet (not least because I might have been grimacing in pain). And, more importantly, it didn’t feel like me at all. I love the a sporty trend, but not so much on me. So as hard as it was to let them go, I did – hopefully to find a home with someone who holds them and slips them on their feet and it makes them feel like magic!

Shoe-walkaway

How I clean out my closet

Okay, I know those two photos don’t look dramatically different, but I promise it made a huge difference to me! Also, for those of you that have been following AsianCajuns for a while, you know that I KonMaried last year (and Cath did too) and, in the past five years, I’ve moved overseas (and then moved back stateside). Both of those processes means that I have far fewer clothes than I used to – I had about five times the amount of stuff in 2010 than I do now.

So all of that is to say, please don’t be discouraged looking at these pics if you are thinking that your closet is so much larger and has so much more. I was there too! And you don’t need to move overseas or take six years to pare down your closet.

I’ll walk you through my process of cleaning out my closet, and I followed these same steps when I had five times the amount of stuff. The biggest difference is that now I’m a pro at following them. So, these steps seem like common sense (and they are), but I’ll give you my tips and tricks along the way that make things so much easier. 

(p.s. Before I started to tackle my closet, I spent a week daydreaming and pinning my ideal closet – read last week’s blog post here. This really helped keep me focused during the day I sorted through all my stuff).

Mound-of-clothes-v2

Closet clear-out steps:

  1. Take everything out of your closet and lay it on your bed (so you might have to clear your bed first — I did) and on the floor. I put all my clothes on the bed and my shoes and purses on the floor.
  2. Give your closet a good dusting and vacuum or sweep the floor.
  3. Now let’s look at our ginormous mound of stuff spread out all over your room (don’t panic — I promise it will get better before we’re done). I started with the stuff on my floor because I couldn’t comfortably get to the bed without tripping over my shoes and purses mound.
  4. Now here’s a great trick from the Kon Mari method. Hold each item in your hands and really look at it. I know that sounds silly or unnecessary, but I swear this makes all the difference. Because there is so much stuff on your floor, you will be tempted to just glance at stuff and say “oh I know I want/wear/love that” or “I’m gonna just toss all this stuff.” Rash decision making, my friends. Don’t be tempted. Hold each thing and give it its due. This totally changes how you think about your stuff. Marie Kondo suggests to ask each item if it “sparks joy” but I don’t think it has to amount to joy. I think of each item and how it makes me feel. Even if it’s a boring white cami that I have no attachment to, I know it goes under my favorite lacy white blouse which I love, so it feels perfect (but does not strike joy on its own). I’ll be doing a post next week about the idea of “sparking joy” because I found that the hardest of Marie’s tenets to follow.
  5. After you hold each item and really evaluate it, put it in one of three piles: keep, donate or maybe. Holding each item and really thinking about, should keep your “maybe” pile pretty small, but if you need to come back to an item because you’re truly conflicted, that’s what the “maybe” pile is for.
  6. Like I mentioned, I started with all my stuff on the floor first, made my piles, and then started putting the “keep” pile back in my closet. I still had all the clothes on my bed to sort, but I find breaking up the process helps prevent decision-overwhelm. Once I had put all my shoes and bags back in my closet, I had a break. Breaks are important. Don’t let that scary mound of stuff on your bed make you rush through. The more thorough you are and the less hangry you are, the better decisions you’ll make. So take a break, eat a snackypoo and guzzle some water — preferably in another room where your mound-o-stuff can’t watch you.Floor-v2
  7. Okay, watered and fed, let’s tackle the bed! You know the drill now: hold each item and sort into your three piles. If you haven’t done so already, put all your “donate” items in a large bag so that you don’t mistakenly mix your piles. If you need to take a break part way through, definitely take a break. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed again, remember to think back to your ideal closet/wardrobe. Refocus on what you want and how you actually live your life now.
  8. Put all your “keep” items back in your closet. I highly recommend grouping things by color and type. I know that sounds really anal, but I swear both steps make such a big difference when getting dressed in the morning. I hang my clothing mostly by height going left to right: skirts, tees and blouses, dresses, sweaters and jackets.
  9. Now, let’s look at that “maybe” pile. You’ve given these guys some time. Hold each item again and now you must chose to put it in the keep or donate pile. My maybe pile consisted of one item (in the past, there have been much larger maybe piles), a very sensible black cardi that was Cath’s. It’s great for layering and more importantly I hate to give anything away that was Cath’s (because she lives so far away and I miss her — sob!), but I didn’t really like the way it looked on me or made me feel. I felt frumpy and rumply. So ultimately I shushed my sentimental mushiness (it likes to rear its head whenever I do any sort of clear-out) and the black cardi went in the donate pile.
  10. Any items your kept from your maybe pile, put those in their proper place in your closet. And guess what? You’re done! Pat yourself on the back, do a happy dance and plop yourself down in front of your closet and gaze in disbelief at the serene scene before you.

Goodwill-bag

My Book Clean-out

I love houses filled with books. As a kid, I always dreamed of owning a house with a two-story library. Up until I started grad school, I would have considered myself an avid reader. Then grad school started and I was so burned out with school work that it would take me at least six months to finish a non-school-related book.

Now that I’m done with grad school (woohoo!), I want to get back into my reading habits. But I also want to have a more minimalist home. So that means cleaning out my current book collection and spending more time at the local library.

So last weekend I bit the bullet and went through my books:

pileofbooks

I gathered all of my books and put them on the dining room table. Most of my books live on the bookshelf in the my dining room, but I had some scattered throughout the house. Having just moved a year and a half ago, I really didn’t have that many books – at least not by my someday-I’ll-have-a-two-story-library standards. So I started this process thinking that I really didn’t have to cull through much.

shelfbefore

With that attitude, my first book culling was a fail. I only got rid of books that I absolutely knew I was never going to read or had already read and didn’t have an emotional attachment to. So my book collection shrunk by 15%. Not much.

Then I turned to Marie Kondo’s book, which Lar and I have talked about nonstop, and reread the chapter on books. I was doing it all wrong – not asking if the books sparked joy and not owning up to the fact that I wasn’t going to read any of the books that I had owned for years and never picked up.

So I went back to my pile of books with KonMarie determination and reduced it by (roughly) 65%. Here’s what my bookcase looks like now:

shelfafter

Part of me is terrified that I now live in a house where all of my books can fit on ONE bookcase with plenty of room for other things. But the other part of me thinks that first part is just ridiculous. It’s silly to have books that I’m never going to read or don’t have any purpose. I would rather someone else enjoy those books instead of having them collect dust in my house.

Instead of giving the books to my local charity shop, I’ve been adding them to the local free little libraries around town. Also, someday I’d like to replace the bookcase with something better nicer more stylish else 🙂

My Ideal Closet – Cath

I love how Lar’s ideal closet is full of inspiration from timeless style icons. Mine is not. Currently, my ideal wardrobe is all about comfort, simplicity, and masculinity – in a Katharine Hepburn kind of way.

I’ve always dreamed of a monochromatic wardrobe. Ever since I Konmari-ed my closet that desire has only gotten stronger – and more attainable now that I can see what I actually own. I’d love to have a handful of high-quality pieces that go with each other and don’t require a lot of maintenance (e. g. dry cleaning). If I had won the Powerball two weeks ago (still can’t believe I didn’t!), here are the building blocks that I would have bought for my closet:

Basicsbasics

Madewell turtleneck | Need Supply muscle tee and t-shirt

I don’t need a lot of basics, but a handful of black, white, gray and striped shirts for layering would be the perfect foundation.

Sporty

sporty

Everlane sweatpants | Need Supply dress | Commes des Garcon hoodie

I love a good pair of sweatpants – especially ones that can look a little dressy. I pretty much like anything that is stretchy and forgiving whether it’s in dress, pants or hoodie form.

Cozy Knits

cozyknits

Cos sweatshirt | Everlane cardigan | Madewell cardigan

Maybe because it’s the middle of winter and we just had a little dusting of snow in Atlanta. Or maybe because my current wardrobe is completely lacking in cozy knits, but I have a sudden urge to buy more chunky sweater and sweatshirts. They’re perfect for throwing over anything and something like the double-breasted Madewell cardigan has that perfect mix of comfort and pull-togetherness.

Quirky

quirky

Madewell T-shirt | Need Supply sweatshirt | Cos dress

Yes, that’s a  boob sweatshirt and I love it! I like gray and black pieces that are a little off – either with the pattern (e.g. Madewell t-shirt and boob sweatshirt) or the cut (e.g. the Cos trapeze dress). It shakes up a wardrobe and the look of an outfit a little bit without getting too colorful and trendy.

Accessories

accessories

Bag &Other Stories | Everlane slip-ons | Adidas Stan Smiths

Lar and I keep talking about how someday we want to be able to carry small purses like this one from And Other Stories #lifegoals. I’m sure I’m doing permanent damage to my back by trying to carry around my whole life in my in a giant-tote-bag-of-a-purse. A black pair of slip-ons would be my go-to shoe and I’ve had my eye on those black and white Stan Smiths for ages.

I know my ideal closet might be boring to most people, but I think it’s perfection. Also, most of these items do NOT fit my body type. I’m short/petite so flat shoes, big sweatshirts, white sneakers that cut off the leg line, and shapeless pieces aren’t items that a fashion magazine editor would recommend. The thing is, at the ripe old age of 32, I don’t care.

Lar mentioned that we’ll be digging deeper into the whole discussion about dressing – or not dressing – for your body type. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems. Yes, heels would elongate my line and short skirts look more proportional on me than midi skirts, but I’m over it. I’m over the rules and those limitations. Bring on the sweatpants and boyfriend jeans!!!!

My ideal closet

One of the reasons Cath and I changed the focus of the blog was to figure out how to dress better. That might sound silly coming from 32-year-old women who’ve spent the better part of nearly three decades dressing themselves, but I think your style evolves all your life.

And I don’t mean how to dress “on-trend” or be “fashionable”, but how to find your own style. That takes time and dedication. It also takes years of giving yourself the freedom to wear whatever you want, like this (holy-moly).

I’m not saying there aren’t some days where I still want to Gaga-it-up, but in general, I love the idea of being comfortable enough in my own skin to wear what I want — not because it looks cool but because it feels like me.

So before I tackled my closet clear-out this past weekend (post to come) I sat down and had a think:
• What sorts of things do I feel the best in (I mentioned this in my Uniform post).
• What do I wear the most and why
• Does my current closet fit my lifestyle (for instance, I bought a pair of Adidas because I thought it would make me feel like a fashion editor if I wore them with a beanie and long, minimalist coat — turns out that “look” makes me feel like a bald hobbit — not the lifestyle or look I am for, though I robustly support elevensies).
• Who are my style icons and why (see photos above)

I then delved into Pinterest with a purpose (no aimless scrolling here, ahem) and made a collage of lovely ladies who fit what seems to be a style that I’ve slowly gravitated toward since the end of my 20s:
• 1960s lines
• Monochrome, clean cut outfits
• Black and bold colors (I look washed out in pastels)
• Very little pattern or accessories
• And a bit of eccentricity thrown in

And I don’t just like this look, it also fits with the way I get dressed. Most of my clothes are solid colors because I think my 5’2 stature can’t handle the busy-ness of a pattern.* I also forget to put accessories on anyhow — and when I do remember I spend all day fiddling with them and clanking my bangles awkwardly on my desk. My closet already has lots of mini-skirts (again, good on a petite frame) and clean silhouettes. I also own a basket that I sometimes use as a purse (thank you, Jane Birkin).

It doesn’t matter what age you are. Any time is a good time to really review your current style. In the past when I’ve looked for inspiration, I would go online and find beautiful images of very stylish women and try to emulate them in order to feel fashionable. But I never did. What works on very tall, skinny models with natural bedhead hair never works for me and will never work for me. But that doesn’t mean you have to eschew your inspiration board, just spend a little more time with your images and really delve into why you were attracted to them.

Find inspiration and then learn how to make that fit your lifestyle and yourself.* Your closet and style will always be evolving, but it will begin to be small shifts that always look like you and no one else (even if you are an identical twin).

*Speaking of which, Cath and I have been discussing this idea of “dressing for your body type.” And we’re not sure this should be rammed down our throats as much as it is. Stay tuned for future posts about “dressing for type.”

Lar’s Winter Uniform

Some days, like Cath, I toy with the idea of having a uniform: a faltering set of clothes that I can buy multiples of and wear the same thing day in, day out. I’ve never settled on one outfit that does it all: looks great, feels comfy (aka I can walk 10 city blocks without falling over and eat a delicious meal without having to discreetly unbutton my jeans) and, most importantly, feels like me.

You know what I mean? Those outfits you put on and you’re like “yeahhh….” Not just because you think you look good, but because you feel good. Boots always make me feel like that. So my uniform would definitely include boots.

In fact, the closest I’ve ever gotten to a uniform is this winter ensemble seen here: black turtleneck sweater, skinny jeans and ankle booties.

It’s not in the least bit exciting or fashion-forward, but I feel so good in it, I can forget what I’m wearing (nothing to yank down or pull up or wobble in) and enjoy what I’m doing. Maybe I should try wearing this all week and see if I can commit to a seasonal uniform. I’ll document it here if I do!

Regardless if I succeed in uniform dressing, there is one rule: I can’t buy all new clothes to create a uniform. I know I own things I already love, which is why I love this winter uniform-ish so much, and a big part of this new blog venturing is learning to love what you already have. I’ve owned all of these pieces for years.

The pic above was taken just this past weekend and the one below is from a visit to Munich three years ago — exact same clothes, just different hats. The turtleneck sweater is from H&M and at least six years old, the skinny jeans are from a charity shop in Edinburgh — a steal at £8 — and the boots are three-year old Cos booties I’ve literally worn to bits (poor sole, it has a hole in it!).

Lar-uniform-munich